As I confessed a while back, my quest to improve my listening in French, and so motivate you guys to improve your listening in Italian, has got a bit off track lately.
January is often a draggy month. If you’re like me, you may have taken on too many new committments for the new year. Plus, getting back to work or school after the holidays can be a shock. And the weather is lousy (OK, probably not in Australia). And there are colds and viruses going around.
Not surprising then that I did nothing whatsoever to practice my French listening for several weeks.
I’ve been feeling pretty bad about it, but haven’t abandoned the idea completely, even if it is professionally rather embarassing..
As I wrote here I’ve been keeping my interest in French alive by looking at Le Monde every day. Conveniently for me, the French head of state has been caught in flagrante with an attractive blonde. Difficult NOT to be interested, really.
I discover that learning a language is like learning to juggle
Decades back, I abandoned a well-paid civil service career to travel in India with a girlfriend.
While there, I learnt to juggle, which isn’t that hard but does take plenty of practice. Getting to the point where I could keep three balls in the air for minutes at a time took weeks.
One thing I noticed was that I dropped more balls as each practice session progressed, only to do miraculously better at the beginning of the next session, usually some days later.
Practice seemed to make me temporarily worse , but then better in the longer term. Each time I tried again after a break of several days, I was struck by the improvement, which was noticable enough to seem almost magical.
Anyway, this morning, a particularly slow day in the office, I FINALLY got back to the French listening.
I’d planned to be doing the A2 practice material by this stage, but I’m way behind schedule, so today I thought I’d just finish off the last of the A1 stuff, and then tomorrow…
So computer on, and straight into the A1 listening test!
And guess what? I aced it!
100% correct over the four exercises, and I was sure of almost all of the answers on just the first listening (this particular exam allows two tries).
What’s more, testing myself in my head, it seems that recalling the French I studied 30 years ago now seems a little easier. I can remember more than I could a couple of weeks ago. For instance, I can count to 10…
The ‘spacing effect’
Learning to juggle (or play golf, or any physical skill), and recalling words in a foreign language, are both areas in which the ‘spacing effect’ has been demonstrated.
Basically that means that if you ‘space’ the time and effort you put into learning something new over a period (initial effort, revision, further revision, etc.), the results are likely to be better than if you invest the same energy in one intensive burst.
I guess we all know, from our own experiences of education, that what you learn cramming for an exam lasts but a short time, while what you learn in a more paced, applied way lasts longer and feels more effortless.
And the lesson is…?
Having a shitty month at work, or getting the ‘flu and not studying for a bit, is not necessarily going to be such a bad thing in terms of improving your Italian listening.
As long as you can retain your motivation and so get back to it sooner or later (newspapers, TV programs, even language classes), you may be surprised to find that you get come back even stronger than when you left off.
Has anyone else noticed this ‘spacing effect’ working for complex skills like listening? Leave a comment!
P.S. Hi to Arit, who e-mailed asking (politely) why the hell I hadn’t written anything for a week. Just what I needed, Arit. Thanks!